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Nail Polish Remover & Cell Phones


Almost 2 years ago we wrote here, “Isn’t it odd that we are more concerned about over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and Plan B than we are about bagfuls of anonymous cellphones?” While cellphones are generally a product with positive social impact, the special case of anonymous “burner” phones is more questionable.

Sudafed and Plan B are also products with positive social impacts, but government regulators have placed modest limits on their sales in order to limit the negative potential for their use. (Plan B restrictions were basically thrown out in a later court case dealing with the details of FDA’s authority.)

Nail polish remover has a high acetone content and acetone is a key ingredient in making
crystal meth. (The main ingredient of Sudafed is also used as a crystal meth ingredient.) So acetone and Sudafed are both “dual use products” with valid societal uses but a real potential for abuse. But so are burner cell phones which remain without any limits on their purchase and use.

For those who never watch TV, burner phones are the communications system of choice for gang members, drug dealers, and incarcerated criminals - not to mention adulterous spouses. Need one or several? Go into Walmart, Best Buy, etc. and buy a bagful or 2 for cash along with prepaid cards for extra time. (You need several to help cover your tracks. Throw them away after a week. That’s why they’re called “burners”.) Internet activation is needed, but heck, you just need the patience to enter fake names and addresses. The carriers don’t care!

Now CVS has decided that without a legal mandate it will take a reasonable step to limit nail polish sales to prevent its diversion to drug manufacture. A CVS spokesman has said,

"Because acetone is an ingredient used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, we recently implemented a policy that a valid ID must be presented to purchase acetone-containing products such as nail polish remover. Our policy also limits the sale of these products in conjunction with other methamphetamine precursors and is based on various regulations requiring retailers to record sales of acetone. We are in the process of implementing this in all stores."

Here are several reports on this action in addition to the Fox DC Channel 5 video at the top:

So thanks to CVS for thinking about the implications of the products they sell. (However, they also sell burner phones and haven’t put any restriction on their sale.)

Maybe someday the cell phone industry will come to grips with the fact that totally unrestricted sale of burner phones is not really in the public interest. The proper solution is complicated by the fact that full documentation of all users may be difficult in some cases, e.g. battered spouses. But unless the industry and regulators start thinking about feasible practical controls the same national security pressure that has President Obama rationalizing the need for “metadata”, will likely result in more draconian action against unrestricted sale of burners.
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